On the Road Again

I imagine every road trip begins with the playing or singing of “on the Road Again,” by Willie Nelson, at least those four words repeating in one’s memory. It is good to be on the road again, perhaps it is the illusion of having accomplished something significant. “Today I drove 400 miles, what did you do?” “Ah, not much, went to work, raised my kids, cared for my parents, ….”

My first stop was, just for the night, Knoxville. Lots of good trails nearby, close to the Smokies, I might have to spend a month there some year.

I’ll be spending the next month near Chattanooga, where it is a bit warmer. I’ve always wanted to climb Lookout Mountain. After seven months in flat Michigan, I am overweight and out-of-shape, relatively speaking, and my footwork needs refreshing. I had forgotten about the heavy spring layers of leaves on the ground, slippery after rain, in Appalachia. I have not fallen yet, but it’s early in the season.

Two days and I’ve settled into my routine: hike on good days, hit a brew-pub, distillery or restaurant on rainy days. Ruby Falls was spectacular, all 100+feet, at the end of a 2,600 foot guided tour under Lookout Mountain. I walked with a family originally from Michigan. They hope to hike the Appalachian Trail, so we talked about that and other hikes. I am envious of their youth, but wish them well on their adventures. The falls are lit with a mixture of alternating lights of blue, red, and white. Every picture I took turned out red, blue, purple, or spotted by droplets floating in air.

I should talk about wintering in Michigan in an Airstream. The lowest temp was minus 8 or minus 11, doesn’t matter at that level. The advantages of the Airstream: heated tanks, -my tanks didn’t seem to freeze, no slide-outs that leak heat. Disadvantages: poor insulation quality of aluminum and the windows leak wind.

I hadn’t planned on staying in Michigan into February, so I didn’t skirt. One neighbor who didn’t skirt had her black water tank freeze. Others had water lines freeze, flooding their trailers, five I knew. It’s bad when you wake up to water running out of your underbelly, worse when ice-cycles are forming, probably worst when you are away when this happens. Always remember to turn off the water when you leave. Two had their refrigerators freeze – too cold to work and when they try, well, it can be dangerous I’m told. I had been told to block off some of vents outside the refrigerator. Either that worked or it was just that the Airstream leaks heat so quickly.

Many of my neighbors did skirt. It was educational. There are two types of skirts: tarps/curtains and solids made from plywood and sheets of insulation. The tarp skirts made with snap-on buttons can be difficult to unsnap, unfortunately breaking fiberglass, leaving holes to be plugged as well as gaps in the continuity of the skirting to be taped. Taping heavy tarps depends on the quality of the tape. A 3M product appeared to hold up the best. All tarps need to be weighed down by heavy blocks due to the strong winter winds lifting them. There are more expensive commercial products which I have not seen in operation. In my opinion, the best method of skirting appeared to be sheets of insulation held in place by wooden structures built behind and underneath the trailer. These are expensive, also time consuming to construct and set up. Moreover, when you move to a new site, the skirt might need to be adjusted due to different slopes, etc. which means trimming or replacing the insulation/plywood sheets or augmenting them with some foil or something along the top.

Because I didn’t skirt, my floor was very cold when temperatures were low and winds blowing, with an over 30 degree difference between the ceiling and the floor temperatures until I carpeted the galley running from front to back. Underneath I put an electric radiant heating pad made specifically to be used under carpet. I left that pad turned on all the time and it worked wonders at keeping the floor warm. The pad put out almost 30,000 BTU in a day or the equivalent of .4 gallons of propane. It took a while to take effect, but the longer it is on, the more the floor warms. The price-efficiency multiplier for electricity versus propane is around 22. At 14.9 cents per KWH, electricity is more expensive to run than propane less than 22*.149 = $3.28. The price was 2.49 but it went up to 2.97. However, heating the floor actually increased cabin comfort, allowing me to lower the thermostat and reducing propane consumption from about two 30-pound tanks a week to about 10-11 days. I spend less in total and am more comfortable.

To handle the life-sucking radiant heat-sink aluminum walls inside the Airstream, I ended up insulating inside with reflexive foil. It is not the best insulation to use, but the curvature of the Airstream renders other insulation impractical. I blocked off the stove fan vent as well. I have yet to use my stove or oven. Microwave and crock pot rules!

Condensation on windows was my greatest problem until the coldest temperatures arrived. The best solution I found was to mimic the pillows made to insulate the ceiling fans openings. Actually I got the idea online from a young man whom I cannot find now. Whoever you are, please accept my anonymous acknowledgement. Anyways, reflective Mylar foil covers a pillow of soft material cut to wedge tightly into the fan opening. For the Airstream, I removed the window screens. Then I constructed pillows for windows. First, I cut reflexive foil to fit the window. This is a little tricky because the Airstream window hardware prevents a perfectly flat and complete fit. The curvature of the corner windows is even trickier. Buy extra materials. Then using the mildew resistant padding sold at Hobby Lobby, I cut a piece to fit the window. I did not attach the padding to the foil and I’m glad I didn’t because condensation occurred at their interface. Daily I reverse the padding to allow the damp side of the padding to dry out. There is still some condensation on the glass, but I can wipe that off, and leave the pillow out for the glass to dry. And of course, daily I leave the door open for a while to remove moisture or run the ceiling fan.

Also, I found condensation in the overhead ducting for the air conditioning. Thus, I blocked off the vents using a plastic storm window kit. This helped to keep the cabin warmer by keeping the cooler air in the duct-work. I check for condensation periodically.

Lastly, I insulated the screen door with a double layer of heavy duty plastic window film and hung a blanket over the doorway to cut the chill.

At night I sleep barefoot, in regular pajamas between two surplus Italian military wool blankets that I acquired years ago. No longer available, they were a favorite among prepers. On the coldest nights, I might add a flannel blanket. Since installing the floor heating pad, I no longer need a down quilt that I used earlier in the winter season. On all but the coldest days, I go barefoot, thanks to the radiant floor heating system.

Since arriving in Chattanooga, although it gets down between 20 and 30 at night, I haven’t heard the furnace kick on. So I think my solutions appear to be working.

Painted Canyon Trail, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Last day at TRNP, decided to take the Painted Canyon Trail. This section of the park is much drier, with fewer flowers, only 14 different species, and many gone to seed with the heat and after the rain I brought with me. There are two trails: the Loop is a nature walk, an easy .9 miles plus whatever side trips you add on, and the 4.2 RT out-and-back Trail.

The Loop had the flowers, and some good views. The longer Trail was much drier, exposed, steep at times, climbing over a fallen tree, over and around your usual assortment of rocks, slides and slumps, but some strange concrete like rocks, and enigmatic holes, 3 feet or more deep, some I couldn’t see the bottom in the shade. What had caused these holes to open? Where there labyrinths hidden underneath?

The RT Trail is poorly marked. At times I wasn’t entirely certain I was on the trail or had been diverted by a better looking buffalo trail. Thankfully, there was a lot of horse droppings and a few footprints in the dirt, indicating that I was on a trail that someone had followed before. There was a lot of sign of buffalo, and at one point, the distinct, strong odor of buffalo, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. The odor dissipated as quickly as it appeared. He must have moved away from me. Fine by me! I was the only one out there on the way out and back.

I had enough water, but didn’t drink enough. When I got back, someone said, “Good Morning,” and my voice cracked while answering. Water is tricky to manage, you feel fine, but you need it before you feel it. My most reliable sign is my voice cracking. That means, I’ve gone too long with too little.

Ten months on the road, time to head back to Michigan for family and friends. It’s getting crowded on the road and in the parks, time to settle down for a while, or not, already have two trips planned for July, and one in August – gotta seize the opportunities when they arrive! Probably pass through the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and try to stop there for a while before settling in by a Michigan lake for a couple months.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

 

Well, it finally happened, an RV campground that put filling empty spaces ahead of the customer, not disclosing that I’d have to move every day, which totally disrupts the day whether sight seeing or hiking. Whatever happened to “the truth the whole truth…”

TRNP is a greener version of the Badlands National Park, generally dry, hilly, difficult to traverse in a covered wagon, or off road, but green enough to support prairie dogs and buffalo. Surprisingly, I counted 23 varieties of flowers. I wasn’t expecting that many. It had been three weeks since rain here. As luck would have it, I brought the rain with me, light, at times moderately heavy, but mostly off and on light. I’ll do more on Father’s Day.

Moved on over to Dickinson, counting 14 oil wells pumping in the 30 mile drive. Saw a sign advertising, “Fracking Good Deals….” Gasoline is cheap and OPEC is begging for mercy, guess we should thank the frackers for that.

Went to JD’s BBQ, which was the best brisket sandwich I’d had in a long time, and the best BBQ since Upnsmoke, but the baked beans were phenomenal.

Leaving Glacier, heading over to Teddy Roosevelt National Park

Took the Swan Lake route back to Anaconda, about 5 hours, where I would rest and go to cheer Bamboo’s team at horseshoes. Saw 4 elk, 2 deer, a black bear, several hawks, and an eagle. The drive is at times forested, then in a valley between snow tipped dark blue-black mountains a mile or two away, towering 2,000 or more feet. It felt like I could reach out and touch them. Lastly, the drive is largely farmland.

The next day, I left the mountains for Big Sky Montana, and then the Badlands of the borderland of Montana and North Dakota. It really is big sky country. I understand why the god of the Mongols was the big blue sky that arches over all of us. The clouds were ever changing. 20,000 miles since leaving Ohio in October. Saw several more deer, and three antelope grazing on luscious green new farm plants, must think they are in heaven. Also, some buffalo and another eagle rising across the highway.

 

West Glacier, a Close Encounter of the Bear Kind

There was a bear up ahead, but a couple of Montana hikers kept going to a beach, so I tagged along with my bear spray drawn, safety off, ready to fire, until far enough, I announced, “I’m going back.” In the lead now, I walked, looking ahead, left and right, and over my shoulders while yelling, “Hey Bear!” the way Alaskans do. Suddenly, a bear stood up behind me, off to the left, in the brush. I had walked by him, unaware despite looking where he was hiding. He must have cut around us, cutting us off from the herd of people below. I had been approaching him from behind, when he ducked into the brush, waiting for me to pass by, perhaps judging my intention, wondering: was I stalking him? It was a perfect ambush, but he turned away into the brush and I kept walking. No time to react, not even to be afraid, I don’t think I slowed my pace, like two hikers passing each other with a nod. He moved silently through the dense brush, not making another sound. There were mule deer down below. He must have been headed down to get one. Time enough later to think about our meeting, but now I was headed away from him.

It’s always tempting to be a know-it-all, but some Frenchman decided to lecture me on the use of bear spray. I asked him where he had learned so much, he said, “when I bought the bear spray.” I said, “That’s good, I learned in Alaska.” I’ve carried bear spray a few times since then, but never had the opportunity (need) to use. The thing is that if a bear attacks, it will happen fast. When I took a class on firearm safety, they had us engage in a contest. They picked the oldest, fattest man gave him a fake knife, set him up 20 feet away. We all had an fake pistol, that we were to draw and “shoot” him before he “stabbed” us. We were all “killed.” A bear is much faster than a fat old man and if a bear crashes into you, the shock will send you sailing, probably knocking you senseless.

It happened at Avalanche Lake to which I added Cedar Trail, about 6.3 miles and change, couple hundred feet of elevation, easy but crowded, at times a line of people going up. The parking lot was full. The campground had been opened for use as parking. So much was still snowed in, there are few places to go, and people bunch up in the same locations. Although I have enjoyed the National Parks – they are special places, my best hikes have been elsewhere.

 

Glacier National Park – arrival and the East side

The western side of Glacier is shockingly commercial and crowded. Even though the Road to the Sun through the park is open maybe 15 miles on either side, with the middle 20 still blocked by 15 foot snow drifts hiding whatever damage has been done to the road and guardrails, people come in throngs. It is a gorgeous drive along the Flathead Lake and River. Approaching West Glacier there are signs for zip lines, water adventures, tours,…., and tons of people. It was late in the day so dinner and check out the Glacier Distillery. Dinner was so-so, but the Distillery had a wide selection of options. I did a flight of whiskeys, a spruce flavored gin, and the absinthe. I normally don’t like licorice flavors, but it caught my eye for some reason, and oddly enough I liked it best.

The next day it rained all day, and decided to spend the time driving the two hours over to Two Medicine and Saint Mary, maybe to hike there. Visibility was poor, so the mountains were hidden much of the day. At Two Medicine, I was directed to Whitney as the hiking guru. She provided good updates on what not to do. In particular, one of the hikes I had in mind, the last two miles of the five 5 mile, 3000 foot, Huckleberry Mountain was through snow, deep snow, and sometimes up and down snow banks or walls.  She recommended the short walk to the falls, I thought if I’m going to get wet, I want something more.

Off to Saint Mary’s for the 3,6 mile RT 260 feet, Victoria Falls. The flowers were gorgeous along the way, I identified perhaps 30 different species, some of which I had never seen before, such as the Bear Grass not shown below. I hiked with Natalie, a ranger from Indiana. She was a good hiking companion, very pleasant and good natured. There are several falls along the way, Saint Mary’s, then three unnamed falls, followed by the 50+ foot Victoria Falls. The trail was very muddy, and we went off the main trail to get down by the river. On the way back down, I slipped on the mud ending my 11 month streak of hiking without a fall. Well, I needed to do laundry anyways.

There was a bear on the trail in the other direction, but we missed it. On the drive back, there were mountain sheep and three elk by the road. For dinner at the Huckleberry Patch for a piece of pie and their elk burger, excellent!

Butte

Went to Butte with Bamboo to have breakfast, to see the Mining Museum, the Headframe distillery and lunch. Bamboo’s friend invited us to his house for delicious sausage and biscuits, fresh squeezed orange juice. Thanks Matt, Lucy and Molly.

Afterwards, we toured the Covellite Theater, which Matt is restoring and renovating. It is a historical building, formerly a church. There is a small theater/ refreshment area below the larger main theater, Up top, there is a good view of the city.

From there we went to the Mining Museum which had a nice collection of minerals, gems, and other rocks along with mining equipment and houses filled with items of historical accuracy. There is an underground tour of a mine, but I passed on that. There was a picture of the area taken from an airplane, I imagine. We counted 23 mines in operation at one point. One remains. That is a headframe below, different elevators carried miners and ore.

We drove up a hill on the outskirts of the city for a better view of the city. That is the city, hard to see but the operating mine is in the distance. If you zoom in, you might see a terrace which marks the backside of the pit.

The Headframe Spirits Distillery had 7 items available: each named after a mine Anselmo Gin, High Ore Vodka, Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream which is very popular in the area, and 3 whiskeys: a light whiskey, approaching moonshine in its clean taste Destroying Angel, a short run Rye, and Neversweat Bourbon, a sipping whiskey. I liked the rye and Neversweat the best. It was a nice break from breweries. Thanks Kyle for chatting with us. That is a picture of the bar.

For lunch, I wanted to go to the oldest Chinese restaurant – opium den – whore house, but they had to close on Sundays. Nah, that’s formerly opium den and whore house, but they were closed anyways. Instead, we went to the main John’s Pork Chop. Bamboo had never been to John’s. The wings were very good too. I purchased 8 frozen to put in my freezer for later.

After that it was back to Anaconda, to get ready to pull out tomorrow for Glacier National Park.

I had a very good time in Anaconda. The people were very friendly and helpful. I got in some good hiking, saw some wildlife, and spent time with old friends.